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therefore, in a few successive numbers, to offer such explanations and reasonings on this important subject, as may be suited to aid the inquiries of the young, and to establish the faith of sincere Christians.
The present number will be occupied with remarks on the proper mode of reasoning, and on the nature and source of the evidence, by which divine inspiration is to be proved.
It will be proper for us to inquire, in the first place, whether the inspiration of those, who wrote the Scriptures, can be proved by the miracles which they performed.
Miracles, as commonly understood, are visible effects produced, not according to the established laws of nature, but by a special and preternatural interference of divine power. By such a preternatural agency, God gives an intelligible and certain testimony to the truth of those, whom he employs as instruments in these miraculous operations. He does as much as to make a public declaration, that they are his messengers; that they have been commissioned by him; and that what they say is infallibly true, and is invested with divine authority. Thus, in the contest of Elijah with the prophets of Baal, the miracle which he performed, or rather which God performed by him, was a public demonstration, that he was a true prophet, and that the God, whom he worshipped, was the true God. Thus the miracles, which Jesus performed, proved that he was the Messiah, as he claimed to be, and that all his declarations were true. Miracles, then, are proofs of the divine commission of those who perform them, and of the truth and authority of what they teach. But miracles furnish no direct and certain proof that those who perform them are under divine inspiration. So, in the case of Elijah. The miracle he performed proved the truth of what he taught; that is, that Jehovah, the God of Israel, was the only true God. But this fundamental doctrine of religion was held by the posterity of Jacob generally. It was the doctrine which they had been taught from their childhood. And how can we prove that Elijah was taught it, or was enabled to declare it, by divine inspiration, any more then we can prove, that every martyr, and every faithful Christian is inspired, because he believes that Jesus is the Messiah, and openly acknowledges him as such, in the face of an opposing world.
The commission of God's messengers, which is confirmed by miracles, may indeed be such, as obviously to imply, that a special divine influence is necessary to enable them to execute it. They may, for example, be commissioned to predict future events, or to declare doctrines which God only can teach them. But here the proof of their inspiration comes from the nature of the work which they are commissioned to perforin, not from the miracles by which their commission is established. Miracles, in such cases, prove their commission; and the nature of their commission, proves the necessity of divine inspiration.
Secondly. Can we prove the divine inspiration of those who wrote the Bible, from the excellence of what it contains ?
It is clear, that an argument of this kind, must fail of being satisfactory, because we allow great excellence to what is contained in many books, which no one supposes to be inspired. Merely writing a book which contains excellent doctrines and precepts, and which exhibits them in a very impressive manner, cannot surely be deemed sufficient to prove that the writer is inspired. It is indeed true, that, if a writer is under the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit, his doctrines will be pure and excellent. But, it is not true, that whoever writes pure and excellent doctrines, has the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit. No decisive argument in favor of the inspiration of any writer, can be drawn from the doctrines he teaches, unless it can first be proved that it was impossible for him to come to the knowledge of those doctrines by any natural means. In regard to various predictions contained in the Bible, this can be proved. And here the argument in favor of the inspiration of the prophets, is perfectly clear. But in regard to other things contained in the Bible, however excellent they may be, the proof of inspiration cannot be equally clear, unless it is equally evident, that it was utterly beyond the power of the writers to know them, or to commit them to writing, without supernatural aid. But we should find it no easy matter to make this evident in regard even to the principal part of what the Bible contains. I am speaking, it will be recollected, of the proof which arises merely from the excellence of what an author writes. Now how could we prove, from the simple consideration of the doctrines and precepts contained in the four Gospels, that the writers were divinely inspired ? They received those doctrines and precepts from Christ. And who could certainly prove, on the grounds above mentioned, that they were unable to make such a record of them as they have made, without supernatural guidance? Who could prove, that they were by divine influence raised to an infallibility, above the reach of human wisdom?
Thus, every argument which has been urged in proof of inspiration, merely from the sublimity, the purity, the harmony, and the efficacy of the Scriptures, will be found inconclusive. And I must say the same of the argument drawn merely from the character of the writers, and the care of divine providence in the preservation of the sacred books. These circumstances are of great consequence, and must be regarded by all Christians as perfectly corresponding with the common doctrine of inspiration, and as affording, not by themselves, but in connexion with other things, very satisfactory evidence of its truth. Indeed, they are indispensable to our belief of the doctrine. For were not the Scriptures marked with purity; and were they not harmonious among themselves; and did they not proceed from holy men; and had they not the efficacy which the writers ascribe to them; we could not admit them to be inspired, how confidently soever the writers might assert their inspiration. At the same time we must remember that other books can be found, which were written by good men, and which are remarkable for their purity, for their consistency, and for the influence they have had in promoting human happiness, but which we do not consider to be divinely inspired.
To show that my views respecting the proper mode of reasoning on this point are not singular, I shall quote a few remarks of the late Dr. Knapp, on the same subject.
“ These two positions ;-the contents of the sacred books, or the doctrines taught in them, are of divine origin; and, the books themselves are given by inspiration of God, are not the same, but need to be carefully distinguished. It does not follow from the arguments which prove the doctrines of the Scriptures to be divine, that the books themselves were written under a divine impulse. A revealed truth may be taught in any book; but it does not follow that the book itself is divine. We might be convinced of the truth and divinity of the Christian religion, from the mere genuineness of the books of the New Testament, and the credibility of the authors. The divinity of the Christian religion can therefore be conceived, independently of the inspiration of the Bible. This distinction was made as early as the time of Melancthon.”
Now every attempt to prove the inspiration of the Scriptures by unsatisfactory arguments, and by multiplying arguments, and adding to those which are strong and conclusive, others which are feeble and inconclusive, is likely to have a very injurious effect on the mind. It is far better to begin and end with those arguments which are clear and satisfactory. And if there is only one proof which has this character, that one is sufficient. And the conviction produced of the truth of the proposition to be supported, will often be deep and lasting, very much in proportion to the simplicity of the evidence on which it is made to rest.
The single argument, on which I propose to rest the doctrine of inspiration, is the testimony of the sacred writers themselves. Their testimony, whether expressed or implied, is as worthy of credit on this subject as on any other. They are surely as able to inform us under what influence the Scriptures were written, especially considering that their own agency was employed in writing them, as they are to teach us the doctrines of Christianity, or to make known distant future events. The inspiration of those who wrote the Scriptures, is a matter of fact. And we must rely on them to teach us, not only the fact of their inspiration, but the extent and degree of it, and its results also.
It will be seen at once, that in the method of reasoning which has now been proposed, it is considered as a given point, that the sacred writers are competent to give testimony in relation to the subject under discussion, and that their testimony is entitled to entire credit. If proof of their credibility is called for, I refer ultimately to the miracles which they performed for the very purpose of proving their divine commission, and the truth and authority of what they taught. Miracles furnish an obvious and satisfactory proof of all this. They show the hand of God in a special manner. They are the testimony of God, and always have been and always will be received as such. And if we admit the infinite intelligence and the perfect veracity of God, his testimony must be regarded as the highest possible evidence.
But I shall not enter on the consideration of those arguments which prove the Scriptures to contain a revelation from God, in opposition to Deists. Those arguments are presented with great perspicuity and force by a variety of authors, who have undertaken to defend the Christian religion. In my reasoning on the question, whether the writers of the Scriptures were divinely inspired, or whether they wrote under the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit, I assume the genuineness, truth, and authority of the Scriptures; and rely for evidence in proof of the doctrine which I shall maintain, on the information which the writers themselves have given. With this manner of proceeding, every Christian must be satisfied.
1 Peter, iii. 18, 19, 20. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit; by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison, which sometime were disobedient, when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water."
The part of this passage which most needs explanation, and to which the attention of the reader will be chiefly directed, is that in which Christ is said to have “preached unto the spirits in prison."
What spirits were these ?- They were the spirits of those who lived " in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing.” This wicked generation was suddenly and awfully destroyed by the flood. “They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, and knew not till the flood came, and took them all away.” They went down in a moment into the pit of destruction, the prison of hell, and here they remained, “ spirits in prison,” at the time when the passage before us was written.
onally, but by Being put to, he went and Christ went la
How did Christ preach to those, who lived in the days of Noah, who perished in the flood, and whose spirits were afterwards imprisoned in the world of darkness? He preached to them, not personally, but by his Spirit. Of this we are expressly assured by the apostle : “Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit, BY WHICH, also, he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” Some have imagined that Christ went personally, and preached unto the spirits in prison. But this is contrary to the letter of the passage; for the apostle assures us that he preached to them, not personally, but by his Spirit.
When was the preaching spoken of in the passage before us performed ?—Those who believe that Christ performed this preaching in person, have supposed that he performed it during the space which intervened between his death and his resurrection. While his lifeless body lay in the tomb, his soul, they think, descended into hell, for the purpose of preaching to the imprisoned spirits of darkness. Now this strange supposition is expressly contradicted by the declaration of the Saviour to the dying thief upon the cross : “ This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise." The human soul of Christ, when released from the body, instead of descending into hell, went directly into the Paradise of God. This supposition is also contrary to the plain import of the passage under consideration. The apostle here definitely fixes the time when the preaching in question was performed. It was “ when the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing.” This adverb when must either express the time when Christ went and preached to the spirits in prison, or the time when these spirits were disobedient. That it does not express the latter is evident from this, that although the spirits in prison were disobedient in the days of Noah, this was not the only, or the principal period of their disobedience. They have been disobedient ever since. We see, then, that the adverb when does not fix the time when the spirits in prison were disobedient; but rather the time, when Christ preached to them by his Spirit. And this, as we have said already, was " when the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing." He preached to them while they lived here on the earth, before they were overtaken and destroyed by the flood. The phrase in the passage under consideration, " which sometime were disobedient," is obviously an interjected one, and might with propriety be included in a parenthesis. If it were thus included, the sense of the whole would be more plain. Christ preached, by his Spirit, “ to the spirits in prison, (who sometime were disobedient) when the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah.”
It may be inquired still farther, how Christ can be said to have preached, by his Spirit, to those who were alive in the days of Noah.